State Will Be Hard-Pressed to Comply With Obama Climate-Change Plan

Tom Johnson | August 4, 2015 | Energy & Environment
Gov. Christie derides administration’s new rule to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions as ‘overregulation’

President Barack Obama presents his new Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
Even though New Jersey has made big strides in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, the Obama administration’s new rule to fight climate change creates a huge hurdle for the state to clear if it’s going to further reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

The tougher standard sets a goal of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 32 percent nationwide from 2005 levels by 2030. But the specific target for New Jersey is much higher — roughly a 50 percent drop in power plant pollution that contributes to global warming.

What makes the task particularly onerous is that approximately half of the New Jersey’s electricity is generated by nuclear power plants, which are carbon-free. The state also has only three coal-fired units — far less than many other states. Coal plants are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.

Long before the rule was proposed, New Jersey had reduced carbon-dioxide emissions from the power sector by 33 percent between 2001 and 2012, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The agency described the proposed rule as fundamentally flawed in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year. The DEP is reviewing the final version of the rule, according to a spokesman.

The climate change plan already has triggered a bitter battle among opponents, who say it could lead to higher electricity costs for consumers and possible reliability problems on the power grid. Even before being finalized, it is the subject of several lawsuits from advocates of coal plants.

Most environmentalists hail the plan, calling it the biggest step the United States has taken to fight climate change.

In a speech at the White House announcing the plan, President Barack Obama echoed the latter’s sentiments. “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it,’’ he said.

Gov. Chris Christie wasted no time in blasting the rule. “I’m totally opposed to it,’’ the governor said in an appearance on a Fox News show yesterday morning. “This is, again, the overregulation of the Obama administration.’’

Only four other states have greenhouse-gas emission levels lower than New Jersey, said Sarah Bluhm, a vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. “We’re being penalized for being efficient and clean,’’ she said.

Environmentalists argued otherwise. “The EPA isn’t letting any state off the hook,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “New Jersey has been a national leader in reducing pollution. EPA is holding them to that standard.’’

[related]For New Jersey to comply with the standard, it not only will have to curb carbon pollution from power plants, but also greatly enhance its efforts to promote renewable sources of electricity like solar and wind and decrease how much power it uses through energy efficiency.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, predicted the state’s coal plants might have to shutter and New Jersey may end up having to join a multistate effort to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants. The Christie administration pulled out of that program early in the governor’s first term.

The EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan identifies specific steps that New Jersey has to take to reach its target, including cutting carbon pollution generated power plants from 1035 pounds per megawatt hour in 2012 to 531 pounds by 2030.

While recent reports have suggested the state is making progress in dealing with global warming, more needs to be done.

The Obama administration’s recommended goal to increase the use of renewables is no less daunting, calling for a sevenfold boost in cleaner technologies.

“That’s an enormous amount of renewables,’’ said Fred DeSanti, an energy lobbyist based in New Jersey. “Without an offshore-wind component, it will be very difficult to meet the renewable-energy goal,’’ he said.

The state’s Energy Master Plan calls for the development of 1,100 megawatts of offshore-wind capacity by 2020, a goal unlikely to be realized since no projects have yet been approved by state regulators.

Many details of the plan were still being analyzed late yesterday, but the chief executive, president, and chairman of the Public Service Enterprise Group, expressed cautious optimism in a statement.

“We are supportive of the EPA’s goal of reducing GHG emissions,’’ said Ralph Izzo, adding PSEG has long advocated for action to address climate change. “New Jersey has done a lot of work to limit GHG emissions. As we begin to review the details of the final rule, we hope the rule properly recognizes the progress New Jersey has made.’’

One provision lauded by PSEG is calls to reduce energy consumption. In New Jersey, the target is a 9.6 percent drop in energy use from 2012 to 2030, with a focus on low- and moderate-income households. Overall, the administration said that would cut the average American energy bill by $85 annually.

“This is a big opportunity,’’ said Jess Melanson, director of energy services for PSEG. “It’s hard for us to imagine dramatic energy savings without getting utilities involved,’’ he said.

Other segments of the power sector did not share those views.

“The final version of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is somehow more harmful than the proposed rule,’’ said Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance. “It forces states to make even steeper cuts, it guts natural gas in favor of costly renewables, and still has no effect on climate change.’’